Florida Criminal Process
An arrest can be an intimidating process, especially if it is your first issue with law enforcement. It is important you understand your rights and how the criminal process works in Florida. Each step in the process can affect the outcome of your case. Whether your case goes to trial, gets reduced or is dismissed, it is important to know how the charges could affect your freedom.
Therefore, it is critical you have a defense strategy in place from the beginning. Hiring an experienced Melbourne criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after an arrest could be the best option for achieving the most favorable outcome.
Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
As an American citizen, you are innocent until proven guilty when facing criminal charges. In addition, you have the right to be represented by legal counsel in your case. Facing criminal charges can be intimidating, but a criminal defense attorney can guide you through the complex criminal process.
If you have been arrested and face criminal charges in Melbourne, contact a criminal defense attorney at Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy. The attorneys at Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy have devoted their careers to fighting for the rights of those charged with criminal offenses. They will work to get the best possible outcome in each case, which could be getting the charges reduced or dropped.
Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy represents clients throughout the Brevard Country area, including Melbourne, Satellite Beach, Merritt Island, Titusville, Viera, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Indialantic, Indian Harbour Beach, Melbourne Beach and West Melbourne. Call (321) 253-3447 to schedule a free case evaluation.
Information About the Florida Criminal Process
- Common Florida Offenses in the Brevard County Area
- Arrest or Notice to Appear
- First Appearance in Florida
- Preliminary Hearing
- Plea Bargaining
- Trial and Sentencing
- Finding the Best Criminal Defense Attorney in Brevard County
More than 300 offenses are listed in the Florida Statutes, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. The crimes all can be tried on the state level and each can have varying degrees of penalties. However, some of the most common offenses in Melbourne include:
- Traffic offenses
- Drunk driving
- Drug charges
- Marijuana possession
- Domestic violence
The Florida criminal process can begin in two separate ways in Florida. After an alleged crime, a person can be arrested or receive a notice to appear in court from a Florida law enforcement officer. An arrest can occur because of a warrant or because of reasonable cause. Once a person is arrested, the criminal process begins almost immediately and he or she likely will have a first appearance within 48 hours.
If the officer chooses to issue a notice to appear in court, the alleged offender will have to appear in court at a designated date and time. It would occur after the arrest, but before the defendant would be booked. This often is done for second-degree and first-degree misdemeanors if the alleged offender was compliant and cooperative with law enforcement.
An officer could issue a notice to appear if he or she has strong reason to believe the person issued the offense would appear in court at the set date and time. It could be based on factors such as residence, employment or lack of a past criminal record. Once the notice to appear is issued, the person is released from police custody. If the person does not appear in court, a bench warrant could be issued for his or her arrest.
Within 24 to 48 hours of being arrested in Florida, a person will have his or her first appearance in court. The purpose of the first appearance is to serve the defendant with his or her charges, to ensure the person has legal counsel and to determine the amount set for bail. Other conditions of pretrial can be determined at the first appearance, as well.
You do not have to speak at your first appearance. Anything you say can be used against you later in the criminal proceedings. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side at the first appearance can help you ensure your rights are represented. Your attorney also can work to better your chances of favorable pretrial terms.
The preliminary hearing is one of the most critical parts of the Florida criminal process. You will be able to speak with your attorney about the case and begin building your defense. There, evidence is introduced in the case and there is a potential it could be thrown out. Additionally, your case could be dismissed altogether.
At the preliminary hearing, prosecutors must prove sufficient evidence for probable cause. For probable cause, it only needs to be proved that a prudent and cautious person would reasonably believe a crime was committed and that the defendant likely committed it.
The preliminary hearing is your chance to prove the evidence does not show probably cause or to indicate the evidence was obtained against your rights or illegally. If successful, these defenses could have your charges reduced or even dropped. A Melbourne criminal defense attorney can help.
If the case was not dismissed, the next step of the criminal process will be the plea bargaining. In this step, the defense, the prosecution or both work to possibly reach a plea agreement. This step is optional and is not a right. It could occur at any time after the preliminary hearing but before final adjudication.
The bargain usually involves a guilty plea by the defendant for a more lenient charge or sentencing. However, the prosecution can pursue a plea bargain if enough evidence was dismissed at the pretrial hearing. If the prosecution thinks the case is a gamble, the district attorney could try for a plea bargain.
Either the defense or the prosecution could terminate the process at any time before a plea is entered officially. For example, if the defendant decides he or she does not want to accept the deal prosecutors offered, the process could end. The case then would be trial by jury or a judge.
The defendant will be read his or her formal charges at the arraignment, the next step of the process. There, he or she will be able to enter a plea, which could have a significant impact on the outcome of the case.
If the defendant pleads nolo contendre or guilty, the next step in the process is sentencing. However, if the person pleads not guilty, he or she will be allowed a reasonable amount of time to prepare for trial. If the defendant pleads out before the arraignment hearing, this step in the process can be waived.
In Florida, after a not guilty plea is entered, the criminal case will move on to a trial. The defendant and his or her attorney will need to prepare for a trial by jury or a trial by judge. For a trial by judge, both sides present their case then the judge will make the final decision concerning guilt based on the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, a trial by jury is much different. The defense and the prosecution go through a jury selection process and then argue both sides of the case in front of the jurors and a judge. In most cases involving trial by jury, the process follows a format. The trial generally goes in the following order:
- Opening statements
- District attorney’s case is presented
- Defense cross-examines D.A.’s case
- Defense’s case is presented
- D.A. cross-examines defense’s case
- Closing arguments
The jury returns the verdict after deliberation. If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is given immediate leave of court. For a guilty verdict, sentencing can be scheduled anywhere from two weeks to 90 days from the date of trial. A judge then will decide what punishments are necessary for the conviction based on Florida statutes.
The punishments, depending on the crime, could include prison time, fines, probation, mandatory education classes or community service. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney could help ease the burden of the sentencing process. The attorney could be the difference between the maximum punishments and those less severe.
If you have been arrested or issued a notice to appear in Florida, it is important you have a criminal defense attorney on your case. A Melbourne criminal defense lawyer at Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy can build a strong defense for your case. The attorneys will work closely with you to ensure your rights are represented. Call (321) 253-3447 to schedule a free case consultation.